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Inspirational Champion of Refugee Children to Deliver Commencement Address at Mills College

Oakland, CA–April 10, 2012 Mills College will celebrate its 124th Commencement on Saturday, May 12, 2012, with an address given by Luma Mufleh, an innovative social entrepreneur whose mission is to give voice to the experience of refugees in America.

Mufleh is best known for founding a soccer team of refugee children from 28 war-torn countries from around the globe. In the process, she became a celebrated civil rights advocate for immigrant families in a foreign land. Her inspiring story, originally reported by the New York Times, exemplifies the classic American dream—a hard-working immigrant who built an empire against all odds.

Eight years ago, the Jordanian-born graduate of Smith College became an unlikely hero when she stopped her car to observe a group of immigrant children playing soccer in the streets of Clarkston, Georgia, and suddenly became inspired to start a team. In a city that has become a center for refugee resettlement, Mufleh rallied together players who came from countries plagued by conflict. Her team, called the Fugees—short for refugees—faced numerous challenges: strong opposition from local residents, a vast cultural divide, extreme poverty, and post-traumatic stress issues.

Despite those hurdles, the Fugees and Mufleh persevered. Today, the soccer team that “Coach Luma” established in 2004 has blossomed into a successful nonprofit organization, Fugees Family, Inc., that builds on the power of soccer to galvanize kids to realize their full potential. Programming includes year-round soccer for four teams, an after-school tutoring program, an academic enrichment camp, and a private academy.

Opened in 2007, the Fugees Academy is the first privately funded school to exclusively serve low-income refugee girls and boys in the United States. Its goal is to meet the unique needs of bright and talented young people who came to the US with little English or formal schooling but with the hope of a better life.

Mufleh’s efforts to help the immigrant community that has become her family didn’t end on the soccer field. In 2004, she also founded Fresh Start, a cleaning service that provides employment to immigrants and refugees, helping them to learn English, computer technology, and other marketable skills. In 2007, she gave ownership of Fresh Start to her employees. In 2010, she began Queen Food Company, a food truck business featuring authentic, ethnic street food, employing parents and academy graduates. 

The inspirational story of Coach Luma and the chance creation of Clarkston’s refugee soccer team have attracted extensive media attention, leading to a $3 million movie and book deal that have helped fund the growth of Mufleh’s ever-expanding dreams. Her courageous efforts were recently featured on CBS This Morning and will soon be made into a major motion picture by Universal Studios.

“Luma Mufleh is a role model who embodies Mills’ core values,” said Mills President Alecia DeCoudreaux. “Her story of dedication and courage will resonate with our students because it reflects the leadership skills and commitment to social justice that we foster at Mills.”

Mills’ Commencement ceremony will begin at 9:45 am on Holmgren Meadow with a graduating class that includes 285 undergraduate women and 286 graduate women and men, as well as students receiving certificates and credentials in a variety of fields. The event is open to the public.

About Mills College
Nestled in the foothills of Oakland, California, Mills College is a nationally renowned, independent liberal arts college offering a dynamic progressive education that fosters leadership, social responsibility, and creativity in approximately 950 undergraduate women and more than 600 graduate women and men. The College ranks as one of the Best 376 Colleges in the country and one of the greenest colleges in the nation by The Princeton Review. US News & World Report ranked Mills one of the top-tier regional universities in the country and lists it among the top colleges and universities in the West in the “Great Schools, Great Prices” category. For more information, visit www.mills.edu.

Last Updated: 4/9/12